Nevertheless, scoring models usually consider the following types of information in your credit report to help compute your credit score:

Have you paid your bills on time? You can count on payment history to be a significant factor. If your credit report indicates that you have paid bills late, had an account referred to collections, or declared bankruptcy, it is likely to affect your score negatively.

Are you maxed out? Many scoring systems evaluate the amount of debt you have compared to your credit limits. If the amount you owe is close to your credit limit, its likely to have a negative effect on your score.

How long have you had credit? Generally, scoring systems consider the length of your credit track record. Insufficient credit history may affect your score negatively, but factors like timely payments and low balances can offset that.

Have you applied for new credit lately? Many scoring systems consider whether you have applied for credit recently by looking at “inquiries” on your credit report. If you have applied for too many new accounts recently, it could have a negative effect on your score. Every inquiry isn’t counted: for example, inquiries by creditors who are monitoring your account or looking at credit reports to make “prescreened” credit offers are not considered liabilities.

How many credit accounts do you have and what kinds of accounts are they? Although it is generally considered a plus to have established credit accounts, too many credit card accounts may have a negative effect on your score. In addition, many scoring systems consider the type of credit accounts you have. For example, under some scoring models, loans from finance companies may have a negative effect on your credit score.

Scoring models may be based on more than the information in your credit report. When you are applying for a mortgage loan, for example, the system may consider the amount of your down payment, your total debt, and your income, among other things.

Improving your score significantly is likely to take some time, but it can be done. To improve your credit score under most systems, focus on paying your bills in a timely way, paying down any outstanding balances, and staying away from new debt.

Are credit scoring systems reliable?

Credit scoring systems enable creditors or insurance companies to evaluate millions of applicants consistently on many different characteristics. To be statistically valid, these systems must be based on a big enough sample. They generally vary among businesses that use them.

Properly designed, credit scoring systems generally enable faster, more accurate, and more impartial decisions than individual people can make. And some creditors design their systems so that some applicants — those with scores not high enough to pass easily or low enough to fail absolutely — are referred to a credit manager who decides whether the company or lender will extend credit. Referrals can result in discussion and negotiation between the credit manager and the would-be borrower.

What if I am denied credit or insurance, or don’t get the terms I want?
If you are denied credit, the ECOA requires that the creditor give you a notice with the specific reasons your application was rejected or the news that you have the right to learn the reasons if you ask within 60 days. Ask the creditor to be specific: Indefinite and vague reasons for denial are illegal. Acceptable reasons might be “your income was low, or “you haven’t been employed long enough.” Unacceptable reasons include “you didn’t meet our minimum standards, or “you didn’t receive enough points on our credit scoring system.”

Sometimes you can be denied credit or insurance — or initially be charged a higher premium — because of information in your credit report. In that case, the FCRA requires the creditor or insurance company to give you the name, address, and phone number of the consumer reporting company that supplied the information. Contact the company to find out what your report said. This information is free if you ask for it within 60 days of being turned down for credit or insurance. The consumer reporting company can tell you what’s in your report; only the creditor or insurance company can tell you why your application was denied.

If a creditor or insurance company says you were denied credit or insurance because you are too near your credit limits on your credit cards, you may want to reapply after paying down your balances. Because credit scores are based on credit report information, a score often changes when the information in the credit report changes.

If you’ve been denied credit or insurance or didn’t get the rate or terms you want, ask questions:

Ask the creditor or insurance company if a credit scoring system was used. If it was, ask what characteristics or factors were used in the system, and how you can improve your application.

If you get the credit or insurance, ask the creditor or insurance company whether you are getting the best rate and terms available. If you’re not, ask why.

If you are denied credit or not offered the best rate available because of inaccuracies in your credit report, be sure to dispute the inaccurate information with the consumer reporting company.